Spherical Object Drops from the Sky in Namibia

by Nancy Atkinson on December 22, 2011

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A photo provided by the National Forensic Science Institute shows a giant metallic ball, 1.1 metre in diameter and weighing some 6 kilograms (13 pounds), that fell out of the sky on a remote grassland in Namibia. Credit: AFP

Officials from Namibia have been examining a hollow ball that fell from the sky back in November 2011. So far, they haven’t had much luck identifying it, so have called in NASA and ESA, hoping the space agencies can provide some answers. The spherical object has a circumference of 1.1 meters (43 inches) and was found in a remote area in the northern part of the country, about 750 kilometers (480 miles) from the capital Windhoek, according to police forensics director Paul Ludik, quoted in an article by AFP.

Ludik described it as made of a “metal alloy known to man” (so cross alien spacecraft part off the list), weighing six kilograms (13 pounds).

This isn’t the first time balls from space have dropped in on unsuspecting countries.

Space spheres found in Australia and Brazil in 2008.


Back in 2008 spherical objects fell to Brazil and Australia, and there have been previous reports of similar objects, as well.

After some post-crash forensics, the two objects in 2008 were identified the as a Composite Overwrapped Pressure Vessel (or COPV), which were carried on the space shuttles, and are a high pressure container for inert gases. COPVs have been used for a variety of space missions.

They are built with a carbon fiber or Kevlar overcoat to provide reinforcement against the vast pressure gradient between the inside and outside of the container, and so can survive re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere.

Composite Pressure Vessels. Credit: NASA

The one in Namibia was found 18 meters from its landing spot – it created a mini-crater 33 centimeters deep and 3.8 meters wide.

Other suggestions of what the object could be is a piece from a space gyroscope, a satellite part, a tank from one of the Apollo missions, or a part of a Russian spacecraft, (which have been known to crash to the ground, as well)

Sources: PhysOrg, NASA, and thanks to Ian O’Neill for his previous and current articles on this subject

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Andrey December 22, 2011 at 7:04 PM

Likely a hyroscope..

Jon Souter December 22, 2011 at 10:50 PM

Is that what you get when a horoscope and a gyroscope inter-breed?

Andy Schlosberg December 22, 2011 at 7:08 PM

Could it be the Mythbusters cannonball?

Anonymous December 22, 2011 at 7:54 PM

I remember something from comedy central recently, “…but, they were able to bust the myth about cities being safe from cannon fire” ha ha

Aerandir90 December 22, 2011 at 7:16 PM

“Ludik described it as made of a “metal alloy known to man” (so cross alien spacecraft part off the list)”

Fallacy. Just because something is made of material known to man, it doesn’t necessarily have to be “man-made”. This then implies that all alien spacecraft parts are made of materials that are unknown to us.

Not that I believe its alien-ware haha

Torbjörn Larsson December 22, 2011 at 7:55 PM

Fallacy.

I would say yes and no. It is a philosophical fallacy, but an empirical non-fallacy. The likelihood for “alien spacecraft” was minute, but the presence of our own alloys tests the parsimonious explanation.

Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 4:56 AM

They’re just using known alloys to fool us. Those aliens are cunning. Very cunning…

Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 12:36 PM

Re the “metal alloy known to man” quote…

Most ‘alien spacecraft’ debris is described as being ‘unknown to science’ or something like that, before being whisked away by a hitherto unknown department of the military: this quote is a clear parody of that. This is a big, chunky bit of metal with a large weld around the equator. If you are launching to travel to the stars then every gram would be critical: if you are launching something from Earth to LEO then you might well settle for a cruder and heavier construction that you trust. It may be space technology, but it is not from outer space.

That being said, it is interesting to speculate what future spacecraft bits might look like. Future civilizations will still have the same periodic table of the elements to play with, and it is increasingly unlikely that there are no magic combinations of elements that have vastly superior properties. The main gains will probably come from making large components with fault-free microstructures that can approach the theoretical strength of the bonds. The COPVs are a better solution, because they use carbon-carbon bonds which are stronger for the same weight. The ideal solution might be a graphite sphere, or a woven buckytube mesh, perhaps with chromium plating to stop diffusion of low Z gases. That would be using an element that was clearly ‘known to man’ but in a way that we cannot currently match.

In fact, the sad truth is probably that any such part of an alien spacecraft will be lighter and less dense, and so would probably not survive re-entry unless it was specifically designed to do so.

The Math Skeptic December 23, 2011 at 4:16 PM

Well, technically it is from an alien spacecraft. Unless Namibia has a space program they haven’t told us about.

Anonymous December 22, 2011 at 10:06 PM

Is it too small to have been a dummy mass? I think some of those are still floating around up there, though that new image does bear a striking resemblance to those pressure vessels

Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 9:40 AM

Looks like a toilet-tank float to me.

Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 4:26 PM

That pressure tank must be pretty tough to thump out a crater 33cm (about a foot) deep and 3.8 meters wide without crumpling.

LC

IVAN3MAN_AT_LARGE December 23, 2011 at 7:11 PM

I think that’s because the tank was still pressurized at the time of impact.

Lord Haw-Haw. December 23, 2011 at 8:48 PM

Commentators on the NPR web-page have come up with some relatively convincing circumstantial photographs:

(1). A helium tank from Kosmos 1686?

http://fernlea.tripod.com/tan.html

(2). A propellant tank from a U.S. orbiter?

http://www.nasa.si.edu/collections/artifact.cfm?id=A19650278000

Anonymous December 24, 2011 at 2:41 AM

Both look smaller than 1.1 meter. Are there larger versions?

Lord Haw-Haw. December 24, 2011 at 8:37 AM

In the case of hydrazine tanks they come in various shapes and sizes, check out the 39-liter:

http://cs.astrium.eads.net/sp/spacecraftpropulsion/propellant-tanks/39-litre-hydrazine-bladder-tank.html

HeadAroundU December 23, 2011 at 5:09 PM

It’s Ivanman, the spellchecking terminator, he fell from a tree, at large.

Anonymous December 23, 2011 at 5:50 PM

I find it odd that the thought of analyzing the interior for a residual of what it was designed to contain hasn’t been broached.

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